The playground at Anderson Grammar School was my favorite place to be. I loved the merry-go-round, tetherball, and swinging. I really liked dodge ball! The stress of all that inside education needed to be released by running and screeching and kicking any round object that would roll or bounce — or in other words, outside education. I still feel the need for recess.
I’ve been reading about the theology of play. To say this that way sounds a bit too dressed up. “Theology” is thinking about God and the “theology of play” is what God thinks about playing. What does God think about playing?
A good place to start with such a question is to search the Bible for examples of humans at play (children come to mind) and see how these examples are treated or evaluated. Another search for conclusions about a theology of play would be to look for examples of God at play — assuming there are any. Finally, and a bit more complicated, we can search for the attitude of playfulness as expressed or affirmed by God. Well this could take some time and effort! We will not exhaust the subject in these few words; so here’s a mere sampling of what you can find.
The wise king who wrote Ecclesiastes is in the following two verses writing a prescription for relief for the weariness that comes from ceaseless activity. He is including mental activity along with physical activity; and he has work in mind. Ecclesiastes 8:15–16 (NLT): “So I recommend having fun, because there is nothing better for people in this world…. That way they will experience some happiness along with all the hard work God gives them under the sun.”
In another part of the Bible, God asks a guy named Job a series of questions that would take an encyclopedia to answer. The questions God asked Job required the answer, “No! These are the things God does.” But if you read closely, you’ll discover that we do some of these same things but not on as grand a scale. Play is imitation. Watch the children play and you will see that they play school and one of them is the teacher. They play construction and one of them drives a truck. They play doctor and one of them is a patient. In one of those questions God asked Job about how he might treat a large sea animal called Leviathan. Job 41:5 (ESV): “Will you play with him as with a bird?” The saying, “Imitation is the sincerest form of flattery”, might just look like us playing with birds when God is the subject of our admiration.
Regardless, a constant theme in Scripture is that we humans need recess in one form or the other (for example 1 Kings 19; Matthew 11:25-30; Exodus 20:8-11). Sometimes that means being creative. God creates the world and we play at creation by scattering color across a canvas. Is this play? I think it is. But other times it means taking some time to be like a child on the playground. Else-wise, why would we expect that in heaven there will be children playing. And are we not forever His children?
Isaiah 11:8 (NLT): “The baby will play safely near the hole of a cobra. Yes, a little child will put its hand in a nest of deadly snakes without harm.”